Academic journal article Parnassus : Poetry in Review

The Flexicon

Academic journal article Parnassus : Poetry in Review

The Flexicon

Article excerpt

Editor's Note: The Flexicon is the playful brainchild of Albert Goldbarth. Its aim is to pay homage to the lexical richness of English, a birthright that many poets and novelists today either ignore or squander. It is no accident that all the writers who participated in The Flexicon round-robin draw heavily on food metaphors, since their gourmandizing appetite for sensual words is astounding. Advocates of the plain style often react uneasily to what they believe is self-indulgent verbal excess or pedantry, castigating the styists who prefer the fleshpots and musical embellishments of Baroque vocabulary to the stern truths of more restrained wordsmiths. Mere rhetoric, the Puritans scoff

I, for one, cast my lot with the maximalists. Too much contemporary American poetry, in my opinion, is timid in choice of language: no seductive consonants, no mellifluous or raucous vowels, no cockatoos, no memorable turns of phrase. Instead, the verse plods flat and bloodless down the page, sounding like lowest-common-denominator speech or a drone of shopworn abstractions. The Flexicon's tomfoolery offers a cogent reminder of the lexical pleasures waiting to be savored.

There are some who want language to be a clear broth. Stone. Light. Milk. Soul. Darkness.

But there's also a bowl of broth asquiggle a la Pollock with thick egg noodles, with involuted vegetables sprouting hairs and wearing wens like lavish boutonnieres, with floating sargassos of tripe, or matzoh balls so fully lunar you'd think that they would warp the field of gravity in the bowl. Seiche. Grommet. Hoochie-koo. Incunabula. Houghmagandy.

The language is a hobo stew, a ragout, an up-to-the-elbow search in the haggis.

I'm thinking of food not only because a word is a density on the tongue, but also because this morning I overheard one of those lucky moments of natural spoken beauty, in the supermarket. A guy in a hurry was questioning the girl behind the register, saying:

Do you know where the Cheez Whiz

That you squeeze is?


And so they got to it among the ant traps, she overcome by his burst of natural spoken beauty, coiling and uncoiling among the mounds of ersatz cream right next to the Limburger, he racking his deblooded brain for words to reward her with-puttee, abonnement, scuzzy, porcelain, fanny, shebang, couvade, plimsoll, googol, fistulwhile she sighed ectoplasm all over him, inhaling phonemes like a milkmaid her own stool. Phlegm, java, algebra, he went on, heaving toward climax, stirred by a simple slangy anacoluthon, boycott, Pernambuco, indri, gasket, akimbo, Aliquippa, dunt. Then his mutter broke into the clear and he asked, "Does the Swan of Tuonela sing because it happens to be dying or because it is surviving? Why does it sing so majestically?" Jubilantly aghast, she ignored him, having gone beyond receptivity to mere words, having already sourpissed her mistresspiece.

"What's your fucking name?" he asked. "Joyce?"

"Only Joyce when I'm fucking," she said, aware that her best was behind her, as they all had always said. It was over, their oleaginous peak. It is possible to have no more than a paramedic's sense of fatality. He and his Joyce ended up barricaded (flimsy Maginot) behind huge blocks of weightless styrofoam, Poe-ed by Amontillado, gasping at their new diet of excelsior, waiting for fescue but doomed to remain there forever, he asking where it was, she answering with one immaculate phrase, a prodigy of impromptu civility. "It isn't where it oncewas," she told him, "you've scrambled my tripes good and proper, and they're going to move me to Fish and Meatus in the morning. Put that in your pipette and suck it. That's what comes of fancy talk."

"Sorry," he gasped, "I take it all back."

"They doesn't swim backward," she told him.

"Then we'll blind the little bastards with vinegar."

At once they set off for Aisle Eleven, pausing only to bow in the direction of a sign saying "Support the Dweebs of Hendiadys Planck. …

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